The Origin of the Word “Work” Is Closely Related To “Torture”

Oh goodness, this is depressing. The Guardian reports that work has totally sucked all the way through human history:

Words indicating labour in most European languages originate in an imagery of compulsion, torment, affliction and persecution. The French word travail (and Spanish trabajo), like its English equivalent, are derived from the Latin trepaliare – to torture, to inflict suffering or agony. The word peine, meaning penalty or punishment, also is used to signify arduous labour, something accomplished with great effort. The German Arbeit suggests effort, hardship and suffering; it is cognate with the Slavonic rabota (from which English derives “robot”), a word meaning corvee, forced or serf labour. In romance languages, words from the Latin laborare have come to mean ploughing or tilling the earth, although in Italian, lavoro also means work in general. The Latin meaning was anything accomplished with difficulty and struggle.

It was so terrible that it is closely related to the root word for “persecute.” It is related to the word “wreak,” as in wreak havoc. Basically, everyone across the Indo-European family was waiting for 5pm.

We wonder if there are languages in parts of the world isolated from les miserables Indo-European folk who actually have a word for “work” that doesn’t convey the idea of being so bummed about getting stuff done?

Additional thought: Would we all be seeking jobs we love and enjoy if the concept of “work” was passed down in society to reflect personal growth fulfillment?

Related Posts

8 Responses to "The Origin of the Word “Work” Is Closely Related To “Torture”"

  1. Alex Mercedes

    Thank you for this! I was thinking last night about the difference, if any, between “work” and “job”. Disheartening to find that both words have such dark and pained roots. What IS the word for activity that is inspired by and seeks to expand personal aptitude and well-being?

  2. The ancient Greek for Work is ergon. But the original Mycenaean greek has a digamma (F, and wounding like a “w”) as the initial letter, It is likely that, given the influence of Greek in emerging non-Romance languages, that the greek for ‘work’, pronounced “wergon” may have part in its etymology.

  3. Mesfin Ayenew

    Work is effort expended based the employer’s maxim
    Effort expended based on ones own volition is an edevor rather than work

  4. Eduardo Rios

    Merriam Webster disagrees with your post for “work”. Work, and the Germanic equivalents weorc, werc & werk, come from the Greek “erg”, “ergon”, which do not have the “torture” or “pain” connotations.

    • Anonymous

      It said work was closely related…as work is to labor whose etymology was explained further.

      • Krista Westerlund

        Thank you for your insights. We hope to see you in class.

  5. Anonymous

    Very strange,confusing andpowerfull,meaning

  6. Jav

    I am so in love with this! I have been thinking a lot lately on how to refer to the “work” I do and environment or, field of play, where it takes place. Specifically regarding the exchange of finances for time and skill – ie., payment. The language used in the freelance world does not represent what is taking place – creative collaboration. Frankly, I believe the language we use is far outdated and detrimental to growth and progress. I can see it firsthand when union enforcers show up uninvited to crash the party, like mafia hitmen. It’s an old and antiquated system that has no place in today’s environment. The old is clinging for dear life, while the new awareness silently reveals itself. I would like to be part in bringing that awareness to light. Cheers!

Leave a reply